Gare du Nord, two parallel worlds in the heart of Paris

There are those, like the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak, who know of Gare du Nord only the immaculate and secure platforms of the Eurostar. On March 10, he boarded there after the Franco-British summit and a friendly tête-à-tête with Emmanuel Macron. As soon as he arrived at the station, the young leader was greeted by the general manager of the railway company, Gwendoline Cazenave, surrounded by a group of smiling executives. And then there are the others, the average citizen, who pile into the RER or see from the building only the concrete halls saturated with people and the flashing information boards which very often announce a new delay on a TER line. This March 10, for the fourth day of the renewable strike against the pension reform, while Rishi Sunak’s Eurostar leaves on time, exhausted commuters telephone from the crowded streets, to warn, again, that they will not be don’t wait.

Two rooms, two atmospheres. Gare du Nord is the busiest in Europe, the third in the world: 700,000 travelers flock there daily. On its 32 tracks, 2,500 trains depart or arrive each day to serve four neighboring countries (England, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany), as well as the regions of northern France and the northern suburbs of Paris. Currently, the place, bristling with palisades, is getting a makeover. ” With the Rugby World Cup in September and the Olympics in 2024, the Gare du Nord will be a hub. The Horizon 2024 redevelopment project aims to create a “wow” effect for the arriving traveller, to create a good first impression of France”, announces the director of the station, Bertrand Saint-Étienne, 32, perched in an office at the end of the platform, with a view of the catenaries.

The former auditor of the Court of Auditors goes from one site to another: he was still piloting last year the restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris, alongside General Jean-Louis Georgelin. Epicenter of the Olympic sites in July 2024, the Gare du Nord is already the nerve center of the “zero crime” plan, launched in the fall by the prefect of police of Paris, Laurent Nuñez. Thanks to police reinforcements, he plans to “pacify and soothe” the surroundings of the competition venues and the transport leading to them.

European capitals and peripheral France

Despite these changes, the huge railway hub should remain the symbol of a form of archipelago of the country, of its fragmentation into groups, each having their way of life and their vision of the world, according to the concept popularized by Jérome Fourquet, director of the opinion and business strategies department of the IFOP and author of The French Archipelago (Threshold, 2019). In this observatory that is the Gare du Nord, which in recent years has already been the subject of a book by Joy Sorman (Gallimard, 2011) and from a film by Claire Simon (2013)all the components of a divided society coexist.

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